Oh those wacky, zany zombies and their non-stop craving for flesh. Nary a month goes by where we don’t see at least two or three games filled to the brim with the undead. There seems to be no end to the virtual procession of the damned and while it has turned many a gamer into a cynic, in most cases those same cynics that spend months trolling every game trailer on youtube they can find with the most benignly offensive comments you can think of, still end up picking up a copy of whatever game they seem fit to shoot their bile at. Dead Island: Riptide has already had its fair share of internet controversy thanks to some unique pre-order bonuses, but now that the dust has settled, and the web has found more important to yell about, it’s time to take a look at the next chapter in this budding new franchise’s latest installment and judge it based solely on its actual merits.
As some of you may recall, the original Dead Island benefited greatly from a brilliant marketing campaign featuring an extremely dramatic CGI trailer. The game itself, however, had nothing to do with the aforementioned trailer, but it was enough to hook an audience and drive people to actually start paying attention to Deep Silver as a publisher. The game had its flaws, but it wasn’t half bad and showed some potential. It still needed work though, and as far as that’s concerned, Riptide seems to get it half right, but never gives the illusion of being a full-on sequel. It’s akin to GTA 3 and Vice City, offering up a new plot and a nice, fresh coat of paint, but not so much changing anything as refining it.
From a visual perspective the island of Palanoi contains a new level of detail. Everything from palm trees to bloated corpses have been refined and do not appear anywhere as flat or bland as the original. But the details don’t feel optimized as much as they should be, with many instances of fram-rate drops, clipping issues and a mediocrely fluctuating amount of detail in cutscenes and NPC character models that pull you in one minute and have you questioning what happened to some of these survivors eyelids that makes it impossible for them to blink the next. The game also suffers from the fact that the HUD’s mini-map does not show terrain layouts, which means while you may be able to see your objective marker, you have no way of knowing if there’s a giant hill between you and it without pausing the game and going to the world map.
Gameplay has been cleaned up in the sense that you’ll find yourself scrambling for useful weapons less than before as gear doesn’t break as badly or as often as the first game and your stamina bar, at least to me, felt much more manageable. Weapon modding is back and building an interesting and unique arsenal of electrically charged sickles, poisonous machetes, and flammable shovels reminds you why killing zombies with such tactile instruments is so entertaining. Still, it does nothing to change the lather, rinse, repeat-like combat tropes. Flail at your enemy like a muppet, pulll away from combat momentarily to regain stamina, more muppet like flailing than even the Swedish Chef himself can handle, just like in the last game. That’s how combat goes down. It’s still extremely hard to tell if you’re within striking distance of your target as well and all too often you’ll find a decent chunk of your lifebar taken off by an area of effect attack that you used on a zombie as their bodies fall to the floor still on fire or wriggling from an electrical shock..
Later on in the campaign you’ll find yourself outfitted with rifles, pistols and shotguns, but the ammo available is not conducive to how difficult the targeting system is to use and you can find yourself burning through your entire ammo supply in one encounter easily.
Playing through Riptide with a partner or group of friends is definitely the way to go and the easy-access multiplayer informs you when players are nearby and available for team adventuring. And while you can play through the game in single player mode, much like Left4Dead, this is definitely a title made to be played with friends, and a few key missions scream for team-ups. The new zombie types, such as the screamer, who lures more undead hordes to her with her banshee-like shrills add a new challenge on top of the more generic encounters.
Dead Island Riptide’s skill tree and challenges borrow heavily from recent, popular FPS’ like Borderlands and provide the essence of the game’s RPG elements. If you don’t feel like customizing your initial skills, you can have the game automate your loadout towards combat or survival depending on how you want to play. The new playable character, John Morgan makes himself an appealing choice with his emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, since, as I said earlier, ammo for guns is not extremely prevalent. If you’ve played the original Dead Island, you also have the option to import your original character, which is nice, but also drives home the fact that this is not a true sequel so much as a facelift.
Objectives are essentially divided into two categories of fetch quests and fortified defense missions. Doing things like getting medicine for someone’s son, so you can get a map that will lead through a tunnel, that will get you to an area where you can find an engine part, are what you’ll spend a majority of the game completing. But every once and awhile you’ll get to hunker down with up to three other co-op players and some NPC survivors to fend off wave after wave of the walking dead. Keeping fences mended and making sure your AI friends don’t get their AI brains eaten make for the most intense combat situations of the game and show off the series potential for being something more than a zombie-smashing party.
In the end, Dead Island: Riptide improves upon many of the issues of the original, but seems to fix very few them. If you enjoyed the first Dead Island, you’re definitely going to enjoy this much more fleshed out version. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for Deep Silver and their budding flagship series, but if it’s going to have a pulse it needs to fix problems and not just smack a fresh coat of paint over them. Riptide isn’t completely unenjoyable or without its moments, but it needs more to truly be a competitor for the king of zombie game’s crown.